Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Longest Home Run

. . .  at a game I attended.

This is prompted by a conversation at the recently concluded Analytics Conference of the Society for American Baseball Research held in Phoenix.  At lunch I was talking with a fellow attendee who mentioned that at his first game at Fenway he'd seen Mark Fidrych pitch against Luis Tiant.  It turned out I had been at the same game on May 25, 1976 (see The Bird).

I'd been able to figure out the date of the game with the invaluable help of Baseball-Reference.  I've also used BR to reconstruct the first time I saw Willie Mays play and the day I met him (see Meeting Willie Mays), as well as narrowing down the possible dates on which I'd seen my first major league game (My First Ballgame?), and even figuring out what New York Giants game my dad had attended in 1939 based on a blank scorecard he left me (Baseball Scorecard 1939).  After the lunch conversation, I decided to use BR to track down another event I remembered vividly and to see how my recollection matched up with the facts.

What I remembered for certain

The longest HR I ever saw in person was hit by Jim Rice in a game at Fenway during the 1970s against the Kansas City Royals.  I remember being stunned at how hard it was hit, how fast it got out of the park, and how far it went., Baseball Hall of Fame)

What I thought I remembered

The homer was hit off Jim Busby, the hard throwing KC pitcher.
Bill Lee was pitching for the Sox.
The Red Sox won the game easily.
The HR was a rising line drive that went over the left center field wall, to the right of the Green Monster and to the left of the flagpole (this was before the centerfield scoreboard was built).
The ball was still rising as it disappeared into the night.
We were sitting in the grandstands underneath the overhang between home and third base.

What I found out

The game was on July 18, 1975.  Busby and Lee were the pitchers and the Sox won 9-3.  Rice's homer was off Busby, who lasted only 3 1/3 innings, giving up seven runs, but striking out six.

Bill Lee pitched a Bill Lee-style complete game, giving up six hits, walking one and not striking out anyone.  Lee got 16 outs on grounders (including seven in a row at one point) plus two more on fair and foul pop ups.  The only Royals to cause Lee trouble were Hal McRae (single, double and triple) and Harmon Killebrew (double and two-run homer in the 9th).  I also remember Lee tied John Mayberry up in knots with an eephus pitch.  George Brett went 0-4, with three grounders.
(Steve Busby from Kansas City Star)

I found several articles referencing Rice's titanic blast leading off the third inning for Boston.

Mercy! A Celebration of Fenway Park's Centennial by Curt Smith, describes Rice's homer as one of only six to clear the centerfield wall before the 1976 park alterations.  The others were by Hank Greenberg (1937), Jimmie Foxx (1937), Bill Skowron (1957), Carl Yastrzemski (1970), and Bobby Mitchell (1973).

On July 23, 2015 the Boston Herald, as part of a series about the 1975 Red Sox, carried an article entitled "Jim Rice's Mammoth Home Run off Steve Busby":
The righthander mis-spotted a fast ball and Rice, the Boston rookie slugger, sent the ball out of the park just a little to the left field side of dead center. Rice's home run, making the score 6-0, didn't clear the famed Green Monster, but rather the back wall of the park behind the rows of bleacher seats.

And it did not just slip over that back wall – which in itself constituted a feat reportedly accomplished only five times previous – it exited Fenway somewhere near the top of the flagpole reaching far above the wall.

Then Boston Globe sports writer Peter Gammons famously wrote the "ball was stopped by Canadian customs".

In a 2009 Boston Globe story, reporter John Powers wrote that Yawkey said it was ""unquestionably the longest ever'' hit at Fenway.

The winning pitcher that night, Bill Lee got a good look at Rice's clout.

"Once it leaves the ballpark, it goes over Landsdowne Street, it usually lands in the flatbed of a truck, a train, a truck that's heading west, so it ended up in Buffalo, for all we know," Lee said during a recent visit to Axis Bat Technology in Fall River. "It was an amazing line drive type shot. It wasn't one of those towering high fly balls that (Dave) Kingman hit.
I also learned from the article the game was not televised

At the Sons of Sam Horn website, I found this recollection from someone in the bleachers that night:
I was sitting in the Fenway CF bleachers in July 1975 when I saw Jim Rice teed off on Steve Busby and hit the longest home-run I've ever seen at Fenway. This was before the "600 Club" so there was probably the jet-stream effect, and before the centerfield scoreboard, so there was just a moderately high wall behind the seats in CF. Rice hit a bomb to straight-away CF, that cleared the CF back-wall (behind the batters eye) and from my vantage point some 430-450 ft from home that ball still had an upward trajectory as it left Fenway. It was probably a 500 footer.
At the Baseball Think Factory, Rice answered a question about a homer he'd hit in Comiskey Park this way:
I don’t remember that homerun.  Comiskey was a very small ball park.  It was shorter than Fenway to centerfield, short to leftfield, and shorter than that in right.  I had two long homeruns in my career that stand out in my mind:

I hit one into the 3rd or 4th deck (however many they have, it was the top one) in Yankee stadium off Matt Keough.  I think Keough hit me with a pitch twice in that game, but third time I got him.

The other home run, which is probably the biggest shot of my career, was off of Kansas City pitcher Steve Busby in 1975.  Mr. Yawkey said it was probably the longest home run he had ever seen.
I'm a little surprised at how close my memory was to the actual event.  Nice to have my recollections confirmed.  It doesn't always happen that way.

The entire game took only 2:07 to play!

And, by the way, it was the very first game that the future Mrs THC attended with THC.  Not a bad night at all.

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